The Hall of Fame Classic is set to take place this Monday, kicking off the 22nd edition of the tournament. While it doesn’t boast high powered teams like the Maui Invitational or the Phil Knight Invitational, it does offer some interesting matchups that should be worth a watch. Here is my breakdown for the two semifinal games, as well as a prediction for the consolation and championship games.
Semifinal #1 – Northern Iowa vs San Francisco
Northern Iowa has won games under Ben Jacobson largely in part to two very basic philosophies: don’t turn the ball over and don’t foul. They have been tremendous at both of those things and it has led to a decent 1-1 start for Jacobson’s squad.
They are top 30 in the country in turnovers, at just 10 per game. Since they are about middle of the pack in field goal percentage, the ability to take care of the ball and get an extra 5-10 shots a game is quite significant. That could easily lead to 10+ points per game added just because they don’t turn the ball over. They are also top 50 in fouls committed, sitting at 14.5 per game. That means that they aren’t putting teams in the bonus and giving up free points. The combination of getting extra shots and not allowing free throws is a good way to turn the tides in a game.
That will certainly be two of the big keys in this game, as San Francisco is in the bottom 60 of both of those same categories, meaning they do turn the ball over fairly frequently and they do allow their opponents to get to the free throw line. I wouldn’t be surprised if the combination of free throws and points off turnovers is wildly in the favor of the Panthers in this one.
One place that USF does have a major advantage is in the paint. Northern Iowa’s tallest starter is 6’6″ and they don’t have a single player over 6’9″. San Francisco, on the other hand, has a starting front court of 6’8″ and 7’1″. They also have four more bench players that are taller than the tallest Panther. If USF can dominate the paint, they can win.
In order for Northern Iowa to advance to the championship game, they will need to outpace USF and get the big men off the floor. It’s a lot easier to match up on the defensive end when you can run the seven footers off the floor. That, plus their advantages in the free throw and turnover categories, will be their keys to success in this one. At the end of the day, I think I will side with the Panthers. If they play like they have been, they could easily win the turnover battle by a significant amount and they could easily shoot a dozen more free throws than USF. Give me Northern Iowa to advance.
Semifinal #2 – Wichita State vs Grand Canyon
While I think the first game could be fun due to such drastically different styles of play, I think this game could be fun due to such similar styles of play. Like Northern Iowa in the first game, neither of these teams turn the ball over much. They have combined for less than 22 turnovers per game. The big difference in this one could come down to which team plays better on the defensive end.
The Shockers have held their opponents to an impressive 37 percent from the field and just 24 percent from beyond the arc. They are also 8th in the country in opponent free throw attempts, allowing just nine per game. Meanwhile, the Antelopes allow teams to shoot just 33 percent from the field and 25 percent from deep. The only major difference in defensive numbers is that GCU allows about 11 more free throw attempts per game than Wichita State does. Again, in a game that could come down to the wire, the ability to get to the free throw line is huge.
Offensively, both teams spread the scoring fairly well. The Shockers have a couple double digit scorers, with Craig Porter and Jaykwon Walton combining for 28 points per game. On the other side, Grand Canyon also has a pair of double digit contributors, with Jovan Blacksher and Rayshon Harrison putting up 23 points per game between them.
At the end of the day, I think the game will come down to the free throw line. With the Shockers able to get to the line at a higher rate, I have them winning a close one. That leaves Grand Canyon facing San Francisco in the consolation game and Wichita State battling Northern Iowa in the championship.
Consolation Game – Grand Canyon vs San Francisco
Just like the first game, San Francisco will have a major advantage in the size department. Grand Canyon runs a starting front court of 6’7″ and 6’9″, while USF runs 6’8″ and 7’1″, and brings another seven footer off the bench. Also like the first game, San Francisco is facing a team that takes care of the ball better than they do, to the tune of nearly a six turnover difference.
Again, I think this one comes down to San Francisco’s size vs Grand Canyon’s discipline. I am going to give Coach Gerlufsen the benefit of the doubt that he can learn from the semifinal game and get the job done in game two. Give me the Dons over the Antelopes in the third place game.
Championship Game – Wichita State vs Northern Iowa
This game should be an athletic display from start to finish, but not one that lights up the scoreboard. What it certainly won’t be is a slugfest where the ball spends a lot of time near the paint. The tallest player on the floor for the tip will likely be 6’8″ James Rojas. I would venture to say he could count on one hand the amount of times he was the tallest player across both starting lineups.
Scoring could be at a premium in this one, as both defenses are in the top 50 in points allowed. Along with the great defenses are two offenses that have yet to put together much in the way of efficiency. Both teams are outside the top 100 in field goal percentage, with the Shockers being all the way down at 250th. Both teams are also under 30 percent from three point range. If someone can get hot, it could make all the difference in the game.
In order for the Shockers to win, their defense will need to outplay that of the Panthers. They can certainly do that, but I don’t think I would bet on it being quite enough to overcome their offensive struggles. I would be surprised if this game saw either team hit 70 points. I think it will be a hard fought game for 40 minutes (or more), with Northern Iowa emerging victorious.
I don’t think they name an MVP for the Hall of Fame Classic. If they did, my pre-tournament pick would be Bowen Born. The Panther’s leading scorer has been just about the only consistent offensive weapon for any of the four teams. If Northern Iowa is going to win the championship, it will likely come on the back of Born.